AT&T is currently rolling out early 5G services on a trial basis in a select number of U.S. cities and is looking to add Waco, Texas to the list by 2018, along with Kalamazoo, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana. The new testing cities will be run on a larger scale than previous trials. AT&T is planning to open trial sign-ups to big business customers, but also small businesses, universities, and churches. The coverage areas for the new trial cities are also reportedly going to be larger, allowing for more customers, and giving AT&T a chance to see how the network performs with a large amount of users in a wide area.
The current run of 5G trials focuses on millimeter wave technology, also known as mmWave. While most of the connection's networking requirements and backhaul are handled by heavy-duty equipment at or near a large wireless site, the last leg of the journey takes place on short-range, extremely high-bandwidth radio waves capable of transmissions at high speeds. For the most part, trials will consist of radio waves coming from an origination point and jumping from a smaller point to another smaller point until they reach a user's device, as opposed to the normal method of a single cell tower serving hundreds or thousands of users in a given radius. This technology involves wireless equipment placed at or very near the client site, and is thus called fixed wireless.
AT&T is not the only carrier looking to deploy 5G on a testing basis using mmWave spectrum and fixed wireless technology, but its method, for now, is more suited for large-scale customers like businesses. Verizon and Sprint, on the other hand, are looking into using small cells to serve a wider area, but not quite as wide as traditional cell sites. This allows transmission on higher-bandwidth radio waves, and AT&T is expecting to see 5G services become commercially available within the next few years, with that expectation being in line with the general consensus which is that the 3GPP's official 5G standard will be complete and 5G services will be commercialized on a nationwide level by 2020.